I am 20, but I believe I have only been alive for two years now.
I turn into a sullen, streetlamp-gazing girl every summer night because I remember, and I regret. It once meant cold Coca-Cola with my cousins and our toes in the still water. Everyone I knew was gardens and growth spurts and spitting seeds in the sun.
Eventually, I got scared of my own growth taking up space. It meant mirrors and pale lips and the road trips stopped. A dam built up between my brain and my body. I am twenty, but I believe I have only been alive for two years now.
I’ve got a space that I’m always filling, a bookshelf, overflowing between my ribs and my hips. Summer is exquisitely pretty and painful, a time for me to remember and run my hands over what was once negative space, what feels like a black-and-blue.
That summer started in a driveway, started with a panic attack so extraordinary that I puked on the pavement. I had asked my Dad if he had ever felt like his actions were meaningless.
The idea had never consciously dawned on me before. I was with some friends in a thrift store and was abruptly slammed with the urge to sink to my knees and scream. I had made myself meaningless and small out of fear. I had been eating the same granola bar, salad, celery sticks, and absolutely nothing else for months on end. I went to the gym and ran five miles nightly for good measure. I had a thin face with the skin tight on my skull.
My dad told me that he could find meaning and enjoyment in something as simple as eating a bagel. I pictured myself with a toasted blueberry bagel in my hands and then opened the car door and retched.
My vomit was pale pink from the Pepto Bismol I had downed to keep my burning heart and turning guts still and cool, the way I wanted absolutely everything. I viewed myself staring down at the street and my own puke in third person, and I felt myself floating off, jumping ship, cliff-diving, to get away from the body I had destroyed.
The months were very hot, but I was cold, covered in goosebumps in my childhood home, alone. I went back to see a therapist and work through the pain. I felt weak. I touched my hair and so much fell out in my hands. I found it on my pillow in the morning.
I broke ice cubes with my teeth, tried to eat. I wore eye makeup to my first yoga class. The woman who was teaching had eyes that glowed like bubbles with intelligence. She could fly with her palms on the floor. She turned her legs into diamonds and twisted herself upside down, with a big smile on her face and Kanye playing in the background.
I was struck by the ease with which she supported her own weight.
My arms wobbled and my lungs seized up in the wooden room of calm women. However, on the drive home, I felt open and loose.
I absentmindedly sung along to a Third Eye Blind song that I had always assumed was about losing a lover, but I hummed “where did you go?” and began to sob, sensing that both this man and I were asking this of ourselves.
I jogged behind my Mom and cycled behind my Dad and remembered the first time, six years ago, they discovered I threw lunches up or away. I did not care. My pants legs were rolled up because the ground level of the house had been flooded with water up to our ankles.
I’ve written again and again the past few years about being sucked under water, mermaids selling their feet to feel something, and the promise of beginning to breathe again. My lungs were burning like the mermaid who had just become human, she has no feet but she’s running, cycling. I held my own weight on my hands, then I ate with my hands, I ate. I ran all year trying to escape my own unkindness. I only fell in a few times.
I healed without a thorough understanding of chakras or spirituality, and without a second thought to what the stars mean by their place in the sky.
I had spent enough time being haunted by the imaginary bullshit that my eating disorder fed me, and I wanted no more. Enough time entertaining the idea that there is something more powerful than me out there in the world. I want to equal that energy, instead. I decided I wanted something powerful, real, and I wanted it in my own body and mind. I stuffed myself with literature and had a love affair with Rilke all season long.
I didn’t listen to any purported words of wisdom besides those of my parents, and those of my body—after all, they made me, and it’s me who takes it from here.
Every time the weather gets warm I will always freeze over for a second, because the seasons came around again and I remember how deep I can descend. But I’ve got anchors on dry land, now.
It’s summer again, and gone is the water from my writing. I cry and kick myself when I count my ribs, but after I learned to wrap my own arms around them that year during those hot, uncomfortable nights, someone else came to do it.
My friends and I read books about feminism, and sometimes wake up drunk. Summer means splashing in waterfalls and waves. It’s doodling a zine and filling the hungry bookshelf in my stomach.
It’s looking into his sticky, clover-honey colored eyes over and watching his beard when he rolls over and grumbles at me in the crunchy, white morning. Once in a while, it’s altered states. It’s singing into the toilet before we throw up and making slap bets over who can eat more pizza.
It’s running, hiking, cycling and sweating every damn chance you get, and being kind to yourself if you forget. It’s leaving notes in his pant pockets. It’s sharing this story, because it’s frightening how many people say “me, too” when I tell it.
It’s a glorious reminder every time it rolls around, remembrance. It’s another year I’m alive.
Moira Madden is a student of writing as well as Women and Gender Studies who loves to read, write, doodle, work—and play every single moment. She trusts things that are wacky, neurotic and open. She eats a whole lot of peanut butter.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta